Sweden, along with its neighbouring Scandinavian countries, are today regarded as some of the most significant contributors to the development of minimalist design and interiors of the 20th century – but this wasn’t always the case.
6 April 2023
Late to the party, Scandinavian Design as we know it today did not start its emergence until after the Great War and would take just under another decade to establish its foothold in history.
Having been spared the horrors of the Great War, Sweden, which up until this point had been a society with a firm divide of a rural and urban class, started to see the emergence of an affluent middle class. Young minds started to travel to the continent in search of inspiration, which saw them exposed to the Modernist ideal of Paris and Berlin, virtually unknown in Sweden at the time. These new artistic ideas were swiftly integrated into the neo-classical values and Biedermeier styles which had defined Swedish design since the early 20th century, giving rise to the Swedish Art Deco movement known as Swedish Grace.
It is in this movement that a young architect, Axel Einar Hjorth, would emerge. Having trained under Carl Bergsten, one of the pioneers of the movement, Einar Hjorth’s initial designs carried on the decadent classicist ideals permeating Swedish design at the time, before he in 1927 was appointed chief designer of the Swedish department store Nordiska Kompaniet, colloquially known as NK. With a history of making period furniture the company was now looking to put itself of the forefront of design and fashion, be it in couture or cabinet making.
Whilst he started off his tenure off with the ‘Caesar’ and ‘Louis’ ranges Einar Hjorth’s designs swiftly took on a sleeker appearance, abandoning the grandiose and classical for a sleeker line, bolder colours, and minimal decoration. The result was the 1928 line ‘Futurum’, which was swiftly followed by the 1929’s chinoiserie influenced ‘Åbo’.
A Swedish 'Lovö' coffee table (£800-£1,200)
His most iconic ranges, however, would come from the most unlikely of circumstances. In the late 1920s the right to holiday was enshrined in Swedish law, and many working Swedes had the opportunity to buy a small cabin on the outskirts of major cities to which they could retreat during the summers. Rustic by nature, these small houses required a different aesthetic than the urban apartments of Gothenburg and Stockholm, and Einar Hjorth found the inspiration required in provincial crafts, albeit executed with a modern flair. Executed in coarse pine with bevelled edges, heavy leather and large metal studs, he successfully created several ranges in the family of Sportstugemöbler (Sports Cabin furniture) named after islands in the Stockholm archipelago where these pieces, hailed as the origin of Scandinavian minimalism, may still be found to this day - undisturbed for nearly a century.
Overshadowed by the advent of Mid-Century modernism, these minimalist masterpieces went into dormancy in the cabins for which they were once intended until their rediscovery towards the end of the 20th century. Having found a new lease of life in contemporary minimalist interiors, these are sought after by designers and celebrities alike, with a notable fan being Kim Kardashian.
Sworders are delighted to be able to offer a coffee table from the 1932 ‘Lovö’ range in our upcoming May design sale. Featuring a simple circular top raised on a cruciform base, it exemplifies the aesthetics pursued by Einar Hjorth which has since become loved by millions.
Do you have a Scandinavian minimalist masterpiece hiding away in a cabin? Please get in touch with Otto Billström at Ottobillstrom@sworder.co.uk or call 01279 790347 for a no obligation valuation.
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